Café Society

[2.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Continuing in the December-January TV drought, we watched this 2016 movie, written and directed by Woody Allen. IMDB has it as 'Comedy | Drama | Romance', but it's one of those comedies where you don't laugh very much. (Scan through the IMDB quotes page if you want, all the gag lines are there.)

Also: the drama and romance depend on how much you care about what happens to these people, and the answer there is "not very much". The 2.5 stars are generous, awarded mostly because the movie is (warning: cliché coming up) a feast for the eyes. IMDB says it's the most expensive Woody Allen film made, and they went all out on the sets and costumes.

Also a feast for the eyes: Blake Lively. Whoa. Good move, Ryan Reynolds.

It's set in the 1930s. The main character is Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg), who's moving out to Hollywood from New York; his mom implores her brother, Hollywood exec Phil (Steve Carell), to use his connections to get Bobby a job. This happens, and Bobby happens to also find love with Vonnie (Kristen Stewart). Unfortunately, Vonnie is Uncle Phil's girlfriend. Forced to choose, Vonnie opts for getting hitched to Phil, breaking Bobby's heart. He moves back to NYC, uses his brother's mob connections to start a swanky nightclub. He meets Veronica (Blake Lively), she gets pregnant, they get hitched. But then Phil and Vonnie come to town…

Well, then some other stuff happens, then the movie ends.

Woody Allen himself does a voiceover narration. Jesse Eisenberg does a decent Woody Allen impression, which is apparently required for the main character in a Woody Allen movie these days.

Johnny English Strikes Again

[2.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

This is the third entry in Rowan Atkinson's "Johnny English" series. Johnny is about halfway between James Bond and Mr. Bean.

As the movie opens, Johnny's been sidelined, off to a small school where he's ostensibly a geography teacher. But he actually spends most of his time teaching the kiddos spycraft: ninja techniques, disguise, weaponry.

Unfortunately, this is the best part of the movie.

An evil cyberhacker breaks into Britain's "MI7" computers, and outs all the current crop of spies. To investigate, the PM (Emma Thompson, pretty good) demands that an inactive agent be brought back to investigate. So Johnny's off to France to track down the hacker, when he runs into Ophelia Bhuletova (Olga Kurylenko, who was an actual Bond girl in Quantum of Solace). Friend or enemy?

So anyway, Johnny bumbles a lot, a considerable amount of physical comedy, some of the gags work better than others. Atkinson, it's revealed in a DVD interview, likes doing physical comedy. Fine, but know when to stop, OK?

Given the elements, you can write the script yourself.


[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

This is a pretty good entry in the "Dumb People Committing Crimes" genre. At least I laughed all the way through. It is based on an actual $17 million heist, although considerable liberties were taken to make things funnier. Co-produced by Lorne Michaels, it's also a movie gig for a lot of ex-SNL cast members.

Zach Galifianakis (could equally well have been Will Forte) plays probably the dumbest guy, David Ghantt, a trusted employee of an armored car company. When slightly-smarter Steve (Owen Wilson) learns that David is smitten with his co-worker Kelly (Kristen Wiig), a plot is hatched. And it goes surprisingly well! David goes on the lam down to Mexico. Steve, with the lion's share of the loot, realizes that David is a loose end, and sends a hitman (Jason Sudekis) after him.

Also: Kate McKinnon as David's spacey fiancée; Leslie Jones as an FBI agent. Everybody's funny, and the movie is better than it probably deserves to be.


[4.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Pun Son and I trekked over to the icy wastes of Barrington to view 1917. After a good sleep, various bodily sphincters have finally unclenched. I understand there's an IMAX version; I probably wouldn't have survived that. Yes, it's intense.

IMDB raters have this as #41 on the list of best movies of all time. And (of course) it's been nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, and nine others.

Set in World War I's trenches, It's the story of two soldiers and their desperate mission to notify a remote regiment that their scheduled attack against a German force is doomed to failure. If they don't get through, 1600 of their countrymen will be slaughtered.

They proceed through different instantiations of hell. All impressively shot. I don't know about Best Picture, but the Oscar for Cinematography should be a lock. (And I say that without having watched the other nominees.)

Only one little quibble: would that have really been the best plan to save the regiment? Just send two random grunts to warn them in the nick of time? Especially since… well, I don't want to spoil anything.

The Favourite

[2.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

As God is my witness, I thought this was gonna be funnier. I was deceived by the previews, which made it seem like kind of a slapstick hoot. And the IMDB has it as "Biography, Comedy, Drama".

To quote a (different) Brit queen: We were not amused.

Queen Anne is initially under the spell of manipulative Lady Sarah; she's finagled her into supporting a ruinous war with France (for a reason I missed, if it was provided). This goes along with punitive taxes on the populace, which they are pretty irked about.

Along comes Abigail, Sarah's cousin, who's trying to recover after a spell of degrading prostitution. She turns out to be equally as adept at winning the Queen's fancy, especially when she appeals to her, um, baser instincts.

To quote Bugs Bunny: of course you know, this means war.

Sarah and Abigail wage a genteel, and not-so-genteel war on each other. This is set against a backdrop of unending perversion (in this movie, everybody's pretty kinky and degenerate).

Nominated for 10 Oscars, and Olivia Colman won for Best Actress, playing Queen Anne.


[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn! Directed by George Cukor! For what more could you ask?

And about ten minutes into it… "Did we see this before?" "It seems kind of familiar…"

I don't find it in my movie list, though. And I've been pretty diligent about keeping it complete. So it must have been pre-2004. But consumer note: I remember watching Bringing Up Baby; this one isn't super-memorable.

Anyway: Cary plays Johnny Case, who (as it happens) has just returned from Lake Placid, where he met the love of his life, Julia Seton (not Katherine Hepburn, Doris Nolan). To his eventual consternation, he discovers that, whoa, Julia's rich. As in falling-in-the-ditch rich! (I don't know what that means, but Mom used to say that.) Julia's dad, a scion of finance, is overbearing. Her brother's a drunkard. And sister Linda—ah, there's Katherine Hepburn—is "eccentric", meaning she's more fun than anyone else in the family.

There are some rough spots to overcome: Dad's skeptical, since Johnny's background is lower working class, for example. But he's a hard worker, put himself through Harvard, and has a talent for business. So eventually it's assumed he'll take his place in the Seton empire, and become heir to the throne.

But the plot-driving conflict is this: Johnny has different plans for his life. He wants to make a little money, then take off and have some fun. Then come back to work when the money runs out, then take off again. Rinse and repeat as necessary.

This is obviously unacceptable!

So yeah, the movie is mainly about Rich People Problems. How did this go over in 1938, anyway? Were people flocking to the theaters to watch Rich People Problems?

Or did people flock to the theater because they wanted to see how Cary Grant winds up with Katherine Hepburn? (Spoiler: he does.)

The Hitman's Bodyguard

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

IMDB records this movie's genres as "Action,Comedy,Thriller". It's rated R due to (according to the MPAA) " strong violence and language throughout". Salma Hayek is in it, and if you want to hear Salma talk dirty, this is your go-to flick.

Ryan Reynolds plays a private bodyguard specializing in escorting threatened individuals to safer places. He's at the top of that game… until he isn't, as a crooked Japanese businessman is picked off by a sniper shooting through the window of a private jet.

After some time passes, Ryan is still in the dumps about that, but he gets a shot at redemption when his ex-girlfriend recruits him to escort Samuel L. Jackson (the titular hitman) from London to the Hague, where he is to bear witness against murderous dictator Gary Oldman. And of course, Gary has a veritable army of mercenary thugs to deploy against Ryan and Sam. And there's an Interpol mole (Joaquim de Almeida, who might as well be wearing a "MOLE" sign taped to his back).

There is a lot of impressive, inventive, action and violence that must have cost a lot of money to film. Also a lot of wisecracking, profane, banter between Ryan and Sam. Gary Oldman is the only cast member who can be accused of acting.

Apparently it was successful enough to spawn a sequel, out later this year, The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard, with Ryan, Sam, and Salma returning.


[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

So was the world really clamoring for a star-studded movie about the relationship between Scribner's editor Max Perkins and writer Thomas Wolfe? Apparently not, as this movie wasn't widely released in the US, and didn't make much money.

Colin Firth plays Perkins, which explains why we got it. Mrs. Salad loooves Colin Firth. Jude Law is Wolfe. Nicole Kidman is Wolfe's, um, girlfriend (she's married to someone else). And Laura Linney is Mrs. Perkins. Guy Pearce has a meaty supporting role as F. Scott Fitzgerald, and there's also Dominic West as Ernest Hemingway. Everybody's pretty good, although the script suffers from biography-revealed-in-dialogue disease. ("So you're a best-selling author now, Tom.")

And the movie apparently strays from the facts in important ways. Arguably, a more factual take could have made a better flick.

And yeah, Colin Firth really does wear a hat in every scene right up until the end, when he doffs it while reading Wolfe's last letter to him. Kept waiting for someone to tell him to take it off.

The Cloverfield Paradox

[1.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Our first movie of 2020, and it kind of sucked. I liked the other "Cloverfield" movies just fine, but this one was kind of incoherent.

Also dull. Disclaimer: I did fall asleep on the futon for indeterminate periods while watching. The Pun Salad rules allow inclusion in the blog even for such occurrences.

The plot, as near as I can tell: in the future, Earth is running out of energy. Our only hope: the orbiting Cloverfield Station, which houses the developmental "Shepard particle accelerator"; if the international team of scientists and engineers aboard can get it to work, all will be well.

Unfortunately, it doesn't work. Instead their testing shifts them into a different parallel universe. And taken on board is a young lady who was on her version of Cloverfield Station in her universe. She materializes inside a wall, which means her body is riddled with space station wires and tubes. She recovers, though.

A bunch of stuff follows which disjointed, nonsensical, inexplicable, and (most of all) uninteresting.

The lead actress is named Gugu Mbatha-Raw. That's awesome. Also Ziyi Zhang from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Also awesome. Saved it from zero stars.

The Girl with All the Gifts

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

One last movie for 2019, watched while waiting for the ball to drop. It's pretty good, for a zombie movie. It appears not to have been widely released to US theaters for some reason.

I'd read the book on which it was based back in 2015, and… hey, I'll just steal a bit from what I said then, only minor spoilers:

Melanie is a smart kid in an unusual situation: she goes to school with her classmates, but that involves a couple of armed soldiers coming to get her in her cell. One holds a gun on her while the other puts her into a wheelchair with strong restraints on her arms, legs, and head. All indications are that the soldiers view her and her ilk with a mixture of fear and loathing. But she has a sympathetic teacher, Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton, who played Strawberry Fields in Quantum of Solace!). And there's a very creepy lady scientist, Dr. Caldwell, played by Glenn Close. Pretty clearly she views the kids much like lab rats.

So she's in some sort of prison/lab. And all indications are that the outside world is … not well. The situation can't go on forever, and it doesn't.

This seems to be a big-budget movie, special effects are impressive. (According to Wikipedia (small spoiler) "Aerial views of a deserted London were filmed with drones in the abandoned Ukrainian town of Pripyat, which has been uninhabited since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster."